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Trouble In Discount Paradise: Walmart Black Friday Worker Protests

Nov. 20, 2013
Black Friday, Shopping
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Most people believe that if you’re employed with a multinational corporation, the same general rules apply, no matter where you work. This isn’t always the case, and inconsistencies in Walmart’s policies worldwide have angered many Walmart employees and labor activists in the United States.

Unlike their American counterparts, Walmart workers in Argentina, Brazil, China and Europe are permitted to join labor unions and collectively demand better benefits and wages. Frustration over this issue has fueled a number of public demonstrations including last year’s Black Friday protests at Walmart, during which an estimated 400 Walmart employees nationwide walked off their jobs. This action was organized by the group Our Walmart and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Walmart employees, labor organizers and others sympathetic to the cause participated in the Black Friday protests.

Workers’ Wish List

With Walmart providing more jobs than any other American corporation, why are some workers unhappy, and what have they been trying to change? In general, the Black Friday protesters demanded:

Higher Wages: Associates asked that all full-time employees be paid a minimum of $25,000 per year, that part-time workers receive a minimum of $13 per hour and that full-time positions be made available to those who want them.

Improved Benefits: Employees asked for affordable, comprehensive health coverage.

Freedom to Speak Freely: Walmart associates asked to put an end to what they say amounts to retaliation for speaking out to improve their job conditions. Some of these employees reported having their hours cut back or even being terminated after voicing their concerns.

Walmart workers also demanded better treatment in the workplace. Our Walmart clarifies this broad concept by requesting:

  • Predictable work schedules
  • A policy of listening to and respecting associates
  • A true open door policy
  • Freedom of speech
  • A company policy manual for each employee
  • Fair and consistent enforcement of company policy
  • Equal opportunity for advancement for all employees
  • Wages and benefits sufficient that no employee requires public assistance.

Walmart’s Position: The Other Side of the Story

In response to last year’s protests, Walmart was quick to defend its policies and treatment of workers. In a statement to KCAL-TV in Los Angeles, Walmart Senior Director of Community Affairs, Steven V. Restivo explained, “Walmart’s pay and benefits plans are as good as or better than our retail competitors, including those that are unionized.” Restivo downplayed the atmosphere of discontent at Walmart, pointing out that over 250,000 Walmart employees have been at their jobs for over 10 years and that the company promoted 165,000 hourly employees during 2011.

Bill Simon, Chief Executive at Walmart, released a statement saying that estimates of employee participation in the Black Friday protests were overstated. According to Simon, only 50 Walmart employees actually participated in the Black Friday actions and some of the protests didn’t include any Walmart employees at all.

The Aftermath

To counter the barrage of nationwide protests and demonstrations, Walmart filed an unfair labor practice suit against United Food and Commercial International Union (UFCW) in November of 2012, charging that the protests were illegal attempts to interfere with their business operation. They asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to put a stop to the protests.

In January of 2013, a settlement was reached. Terms of this settlement required the UFCW and Our Walmart to:

  • Cease all illegal recognitional picketing
  • Stop encouraging other affiliated groups to create unlawful disruptions
  • Refrain from all picketing and other confrontational activities at Walmart stores and company facilities for at least 60 days.

Moving Forward: Black Friday 2013

A recent series of employee walkouts and strikes in cities including Los Angeles, Seattle and Miami illustrates that Walmart hasn’t seen the last of labor protests. Activists anticipate that Black Friday will set the stage for more widespread protests, demonstrations and walkouts at Walmart stores across the country.

Walmart will open Black Friday events a day early this year and is advertising an exciting kickoff to the holiday shopping season. With unresolved issues still brewing beneath the garlands and glimmer, however, shoppers shouldn’t be surprised to see some familiar picket signs during their hunt for bargains.


Walmart associate image: Neon Tommy/Flickr: Source